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Advice & News

October 3, 2018

Information Interviews: An Effective Networking Strategy

Where does one start when they do not know where to start? Information interviews are great for research and learning more about a different profession, a line of work, or the employment opportunities in a given geographical area. If one is young and interested in working in the public relations industry, new to higher education, or just moved to town, information interviews are a great way of gaining insight from people who know a lot more about the subject than one knows. However, embedded inside of every information interview is a golden networking opportunity that can transform a job search.

Information interviews are short, 15-minute to 30-minute, advice seeking sessions with influencers that are initiated by job seekers. It is not an occasion to ask for or apply for a job. While their primary purpose is to gain some valuable insight, making a good impression and gaining a referral as a result of the interview is the job search's version of finding a roadmap to treasure. Making a good impression increases the chance that one will be considered for future openings at the organization. A poor impression creates double jeopardy. Not only will future employment opportunities be undermined, but the interviewer is unlikely to refer the interviewee to those they know and trust. Networking begins here.

A favorable impression keeps one top of mind. The interviewer puts the interviewee in their future recruiting pool -- if appropriate and applicable. When vacancies occur, one might get advanced notice of a position before it is advertised. Additionally, one may get first dibs on unadvertised opportunities, though most often these are temporary or part-time assignments. Nonetheless, one gets their proverbial 'foot in the door.'

One of the best possible outcomes of an information interview is for the interviewer to 'put in a good word for you' with their HR department, another department head, or a colleague at another organization. This is an excellent starting point and an anchor node in one's professional network. Getting two or three referrals from every information interview grows one's network in multiplicative fashion. According to experts, a high percentage of jobs are given to those within a given network, and information interviews are a strategic method of gaining access to a network of influencers while building one's own.

There is a host of unwritten rules that those new to the information interview process may not know. Here are some tips that should be heeded:

  • Do treat it like a job interview. Dress the part, act the part. To earn a referral, one has to demonstrate their competence and professionalism, just like in an interview. Dressing smartly, conducting oneself in a business-like fashion, and being knowledgeable of the interviewer's organization, position, and department help to establish rapport. Showing that one has done their homework and has interest in the host's line of work demonstrates initiative and a good work ethic. After all, there is a reason that 'interview' is in the name of the process.
  • Do come prepared. As indicated above, research and preparation are required. This is consistent with the three goals of the process -- making a good impression. In the role of a learner, a student should always come to class prepared. This is a learning laboratory
  • Do ask good questions. Preparation includes having a series of questions in hand to guide the discussion and make good use of available time. Such interviews are likely requested of well-placed, busy professionals. When great questions spur rich conversation, interviews can turn into prolonged professional conversations that engage the interviewer. Hint: If the interviewer cancels or delays his or her next appointment to answer more than four or five questions, one is well on the way to a set of good referrals.
  • Don't ever ask for a job. It is bad protocol to ask one's host for a position on their team or with their organization as a part of an information interview. If interviewers thought that everyone who appeared to be seeking their advice was using a clever way of gaining access to a hiring official, then they would never entertain the requests of other honest people.
  • Don't ask them to review your resume and give you feedback. The host has already given advice and fifteen minutes or a half hour of their time, so do not ruin it by asking them for another half hour of their time and free labor. If they offer to do so, that is 'gravy,' as the saying goes, but one should not ask for their continued graciousness. It is just impolite.
  • Don't forget to say 'thank you.' Saying 'thank you' at the end of the interview is pro forma, but sending a hand-written note later is a nice touch. While an e-mail expressing appreciation is nice, a note is impactful. A wise candidate will do both. This will reinforce the good impression made and keep one top of mind (and it creates two occasions to subtly remind the busy interviewer to refer one to others if they have not done so already).
Information interviews can jump-start a job search by helping one build a network of influencers who may recruit one for future employment or connect one with others who are in a position to do the same. It is not a time to ask or apply for a position, but it is a golden opportunity to build relationships by making a good impression, learning a lot about an organization or profession, and potentially gaining access to a network of hiring managers or potential search committee members. To be successful, candidates should understand information interview etiquette and follow generally accepted 'do's' and 'don'ts.' In the next blog post, we discuss a protocol for developing questions -- along with a set of suggested questions -- that will help the job seeker ace the information interview.